Science Communication -- Changes in the Relationship between Science and Society

October 6, 2023

Open access, integrity in research, and best practices for communication were among the array of topics discussed at the Symposium on Science Communication, which took place on Friday, September 15 at the University of California, Berkeley. Moderated by Julia Schaletzky, Executive Director of the Harry Wheeler Center for Emerging & Neglected Diseases (CEND) at UC Berkeley, the symposium began with a keynote by Nobel laureate Randy Schekman (Medicine, 2013). Consul General Oliver Schramm also greeted attendees, highlighting the importance of science communication for the development of our society.

Following the keynote, the event addressed difficulties that scientists face in disseminating their findings, the need to foster diverse perspectives in research, and how the scientific community can better restore trust in its work. In times when fear and disinformation convolute their message, scientists must proactively communicate how their research contributes to human understanding and shapes responsible policy.

In his remarks, Schekman noted that billions of taxpayer dollars fund public research, yet the public and even scientific collaborators are unable to access those research studies. The cause of this, Schekman argued, is the racket of large publishing enterprises, which charge exorbitant licensing fees and restrict the number of papers published to maintain their exclusivity.

Many postdoctoral scholars and junior scientists spend years, money, and endless hours of effort in the hope that they can publish in one of these journals. This pressure to publish has led some to cherry-pick or falsify their data results, threatening the integrity of scientific research. These issues are systemic: notably, journals such as Nature and Science have recently issued several spectacular retractions. In a later panel, Schekman, joined by colleagues Neil Gilbert, Professor at the School of Social Welfare, and Smriti Mehta, a researcher at the Department of Psychology, discussed some implications of open access expansion, such as ensuring rigorous peer-review processes and quality vetting of journals. They discussed how metrics traditionally used to evaluate scientists, such as impact factors, carry significant flaws, and how recent metrics, such as social media followers, can sometimes impact a researcher’s career. Moreover, publication of research in an academic ecosystem is a privilege and differs from research in the private sector, which often remains in the company until a product can be launched.
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Four panelists speaking

Photo by Brenda Lamboy, DWIH